The western is an old genre, everything that can be done has probably been done, ingenuity is something that lacks hence why very few are made in recent years. Many of the new films have been good because of the filmmaker’s attempts to make their film stand apart from westerns of old. The Salvation is a terrific example of a modern western, taking a revenge tale and adding stylish look and a powerhouse performance by Mads Mikkelsen. When you ask what sets The Salvation apart from other great westerns the answer is simple: they didn’t have Mads.
Unlike other westerns, this film doesn’t have any filler but keeps a gradual pace to it. Every scene pushes the story forward and you’re never bored by the proceedings. It starts off dark but supplies a powerful motivation to Mads’s revenge mission, after his wife and child are murdered by two criminals he hunts them down and kills them both. When deciding to leave with his brother to start again further west it is revealed that the man Mads’s killed was the brother of an outlaw named Henry De La Rue played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The film doesn’t play around, the moment La Rue discovers his brother was killed the hunt for Mads is on and they catch him fast.
The film doesn’t play to heighten stereotypes, yes Mads is the “good guy” and Morgan is the “bad guy” but the film keeps them as grounded characters. Their both soldiers of different wars but not unstoppable killing machines. The escalation of conflict builds naturally as well, other forces at play besides the revenge mission. The Salvation does keep the visual style of the western as well, the film is gorgeous to look at from cinematography to costume design. The sequence in the rain during the mid-point of the film is incredible and gives a great sense of danger and consequence to the characters.
Mikkelsen’s performance is the real highlight of this film, its reserved, he relies on his facial expressions and subtleties to bring across the emotion of the character. This isn’t a crazy Liam Neeson type character, Mads is skilled but not an unstoppable fighter – he gets shot he goes down, overpowered, the film never tries to make it seem like he’s more than just a man. However because its Mads Mikkelsen you know he won’t go down easy and the way the film portrays the opening scenes shows the real power to the actors skilled. He is absolutely helpless when things go south in the stage-coach and realises that he won’t be able to save his family.
The only part of this film that didn’t work for me was Eva Green’s character, the wife of the man who killed Mads’s wife and child. She is unable to speak due to her tongue being cut out and she serves as the sick affection to La Rue. While being against him and wanting to escape I don’t understand how it fit into Mads’s story, the film makes it fit but I found it an unnatural development to what the film was leading up to. Green however was fantastic to it, displaying the great ability an actor has in developing a character without dialogue. A fantastic addition to the film as a performer but as a character not so much.
The Salvation is a great addition to the modern western and another killer performance from Mads Mikkelsen. It captures all those elements that make a dark somber western, displaying the harsh reality of the landscape with realistic violence between men. A worthwhile addition to anyone’s “Must Watch List” or lists about films about why Mads Mikkelsen is better than you.